Irish writer, director and now novelist Hazel Hayes shares the five books she turns to when she needs to change her perspective and get out of a funk
Bad days. We all have them. And we all experience them differently. I suffer from anxiety and depression and can be prone to having intensely bad days. In fact, coping with poor mental health, alongside the day to day difficulties of heartbreak, trauma, and grief, is one of the main themes of my own book, Out of Love — I promise it’s not as harrowing as it sounds though, you may even find yourself laughing between hysterical sobs.
But reading about pain from someone else’s perspective can make us feel less alone with our own pain. And when I’m having a particularly crappy day, when the world feels a bit too big and scary, there are a few books I find myself coming back to time and again, like wrapping myself up in a lovely literary blanket…
Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig
I’m going to assume you’re having the WORST kind of day, and bring out the big guns straight away. I read Reasons To Stay Alive when I was at the lowest point in my life, when just getting through each hour, let alone each day, felt almost impossible. Most people will, unfortunately, experience something like this at some point, and when they do I can only hope someone hands them a copy of this book.
A lot of people have said this of Matt Haig’s work but Reasons to Stay Alive literally saved my life. It’s written in short, easily-consumable chapters, and is full of helpful, heartfelt advice. This book is told from the perspective of someone who’s been to the brink and brought a message of hope back for the rest of us.
Favourite quote: “Depression is also smaller than you. Always, it is smaller than you, even when it feels vast. It operates within you, you do not operate within it. It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky but — if that is the metaphor — you are the sky.”
Small Cures by Della Hicks-Wilson
Della’s words are like a healing balm for your soul. In this book she has gathered together a selection of her own short verses, poems, memories, observations — call them what you will — and arranged them in an order that takes you on a journey from the moment your heart shatters, to the point where you put the pieces back together again. If you don’t have the time or the brain power to read big chunks of text, you can pick up these Small Cures whenever you need some motivation, a good cry or a gentle reminder that you’re not the first or last person to feel this way.
Favourite quote: “And one day this sadness will become a song, you just know some of the words to.”
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön
Yes, the title seems a bit on the nose, but bear with me because this book is not quite what you expect. Unlike other self help books, this isn’t about finding the fastest route out of pain, and you won’t be required to wash any men right out of your hair or get back on any horses. Instead, Pema Chödrön, an ordained Tibeten Buddhist nun, suggests that you “lean in” to the pain, rather than trying to resist it.
I know, I know. Crazy, right? Who on Earth would want to delve further into their own misery? But surrendering to suffering is a key tenet of Buddhism, and Chödrön has a way of explaining this deep, spiritual practice in such an honest, casual and oftentimes funny way, that by the last page you’ll not only feel better, you’ll realise that in fact, there are no good days or bad days, there are only days, and all that changes is how we feel about them. Deep, huh?
Favourite quote: “Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look.”
First, We Make the Beast Beautiful by Sarah Wilson
“The Chinese believe that before you can conquer a beast, you must first make it beautiful”. This theory gave rise to both the title and goal of Sarah Wilson’s book, which is to help you stop fighting your anxiety and learn to befriend it instead.
This is one of the most accurate accounts of anxiety I’ve ever read. It reads almost like a memoir, it’s funny and raw, but it’s also full of relevant research, practical tips and interviews with fellow sufferers, mental health experts and even the Dalai Lama. If your bad day is a result of anxiety, then this is the book for you!
Favourite quote: “I believe with all my heart that just understanding the metapurpose of the anxious struggle helps to make it beautiful. Purposeful, creative, bold, rich, deep things are always beautiful.”
Whatever The Hell You Want
No, this isn’t the title of some sassy self help book — although that’s not a bad idea, actually — I’m purposely leaving this space blank because what I need on a bad day might not be the same thing you need. And even my own bad days are like snowflakes, no two are alike, so they often require different remedies.
The four books I’ve mentioned here have helped me through some tough times and they might just help you too, but the most important thing when you’re not feeling great is to curl up with whatever makes you feel most comfortable.
Sometimes, sci-fi is the only genre I can read, because it’s pure escapism. But you might prefer romance or horror or biographies or court procedurals… whatever works for you! And if today just happens to be a bad day, I hope tomorrow is a better one.
Out of Love by Hazel Hayes is out now. You can follow Hazel on Instagram and Twitter @TheHazelHayes
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